Wildfires emitted 1.76 billion tonnes of carbon this year, breaking records

A specialist from the Russian Federal Agency for Forestry works to put out a forest fire outside a village in the Omsk Region.
A specialist from the Russian Federal Agency for Forestry works to put out a forest fire outside a village in the Omsk Region.   -   Copyright  REUTERS/Alexey Malgavko   -  
By Kate Abnett - Reuters

Wildfires produced a record amount of carbon emissions in parts of Siberia, the United States and Turkey this year, as climate change fanned unusually intense blazes.

Wildfires emitted 1.76 billion tonnes of carbon globally in 2021, the EU’s Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service reported on Monday. That's equivalent to more than double Germany's annual CO2 emissions.

Some of the worst-hit hotspots recorded their highest wildfire emissions for any January to November period since Copernicus' dataset began in 2003, including parts of Siberia's Yakutia region, Turkey, Tunisia and the western United States.

"We have seen extensive regions experience intense and prolonged wildfire activity. Drier and hotter regional conditions under a changing climate have increased the risk of flammability and fire risk of vegetation," says senior Copernicus scientist Mark Parrington.

Globally, the wildfire emissions total wasn't the highest since 2003, but Copernicus said such emissions were likely to increase as the impacts of climate change unfold.

Which countries experienced record-breaking emissions from wildfires?

Yakutia in northeastern Siberia produced its highest CO2 emissions from wildfires for any summer since 2003, while in western Siberia, a "huge number" of blazes churned out daily CO2 emissions far above the 2003 to 2021 average.

In North America, fires in Canada, California and the US Pacific Northwest emitted around 83 million tonnes of CO2, generating huge smoke plumes that drifted across the Atlantic to reach Europe, Copernicus said.

California's "Dixie fire", which ravaged nearly a million acres, was the largest recorded fire in the state's history.

In the Mediterranean, a hot and dry summer fanned strong blazes in countries including Greece and Turkey.

Thousands of people in those countries were evacuated from their homes, and the region's air quality deteriorated as the fires caused high levels of health-damaging particulate matter.